I have always enjoyed reading fiction or non-fiction emerging from the days of Raj and particularly if the book has anything to do with travel or the Himalayas to be more specific. And led by this active interest, a few weeks back, I bought this book from a popular bookshop at the Khan Market in New Delhi. Titled The Himalaya Club and other entertainments from the Raj, the book was originally authored by John Lang in 1859; a few years before he died in Mussoorie, Uttarakhand.
The book is divided into five chapters in which Lang has weaved random titbits of the colonial India British society particularly stationed in the hilly sanatorium of Mussoorie or Shimla. The Himalaya Club is just the first story of the book. Sarcastically weighing the social life of the British community, the author skilfully talks about the scandals, flirtations, adulterous relationships, gambling through cards or billiards, ego-related duels or quarrels, hierarchical disputes and disciplinary commands, etcetera. Lang’s description does portray a realistic picture of the hill town’s social life along with the typical differences of the social and travel life of Mussoorie and Shimla (Simlah) during those days.
The next story Military Matters satirically depicts the farcical proceedings of a court-martial trial. The story The Himalayas talks about Lang’s babu-style travel to Almora (Almorah) along with his two European friends. The Returning features civil court cases involving Indian under-trials at the Magistrate’s court of Bijnore. The author highlights corruptness of the system where occurrence of injustice and unfairness was a commonplace. A man was sentenced to death for committing a murder in place of his prosecutor who was the real murderer.
Going by the title of the book, I was hoping to find a good deal of information related to the natural history of the Himalayas or at least the initial adventurous pursuits of the British or Indians. Save for the story The Himalayas that describes their super luxurious game-hunting travel to Almora, another hill station occupied by the British at the time of writing, there isn’t much in the book to look forward to from the perspective of the Himalayas. The book might be of interest to someone who wishes to read about page three talks and party gossips of the hill stations of Mussoorie and Shimla.
The foreword of The Himalaya Club, which is possibly its only saving grace, is penned by the much loved author Ruskin Bond. In his typical nonpareil writing style, Ruskin Bond, himself a resident of Mussoorie, narrates just how he learnt of John Lang and his works. Quite venturesomely, Bond later successfully discovered Lang’s burial site in an old English cemetery at Mussoorie. John Lang was born in Sydney, Australia in 1816 and was among the first from that land to set foot on the Indian mainland. Other than being an elusive writer, Bond describes Lang to be a master barrister who represented Rani of Jhansi in her legal battles against the East India Company.
Anyhow, the 135 page slim book does provide a humble overview of the social life of colonial India. Mannerism, dubious actions, doublespeak and such habits form the undercurrent of the book. I bought this book at an undiscounted price of Rs 199, however, the same is available at a current average price of Rs 145 at Amazon and Flipkart.